Maui Family Suing State Claiming Mental Health Services Cut Off

Jul 22, 2019

A Maui family is suing two state departments, saying they violated federal law by cutting off essential mental health services for their daughter when she turned 18 years old.

The parents of Soleil "Kela" Feinberg filed suit against the Department of Health's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division (CAMHD) and the Department of Human Services, charging they not only ended health services for their daughter, but also failed to provide enough follow-up resources.

Kela suffers from schizoaffective disorder. She has schizophrenia and she is bipolar.

When Kela turned 18, her parents say the state cut off her services at a residential treatment facility on the mainland, and she was forced to return home. Officials with CAMHD told the family that Kela wasn't eligible for treatment beecause of her age. According to the family's attorneys, this violated federal law.

"Federal law clearly requires the state to provide mental health services to kids on Medicaid until they turn 21," said Tom Helper of Lawyers for Equal Justice who is representing the family.

Her parents sought services for Kela from the state, but they say it didn't address her needs. 

"There were literally no services in place. The treatment plan was call 9-1-1, I believe it was, two hours per week of in-home intensive therapist, and call the Crisis Line if you have problems that aren't 9-1-1 level," said Kela's father, David Feinberg. 

According to Kela's parents, the state told them it would provide services through another program. But they say those never materialized.

"Based on our experiences and our research, we believed that there are excellent treatment options on the mainland available to her," said Feinberg.

Kela's condition worsened over time, according to her parents, and they were forced to commit her to the Molokini mental health unit at Maui Memorial Hospital. She initially showed signs of improvement, and was later discharged -- only to later be recommitted. Kela was eventually moved to the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe late last year. 

"If Kela had gotten the treatment she needed, none of this would have happened," said Kela's mother, Victoria.

Attorneys for the Feinbergs believe Kela's case is not an isolated one. They say the state's mental health system is broken for children, especially during the transition into adulthood.

"Although the law is clear that the state has to provide services until age 21, the state is routinely ending mental health services after age 18," said Victor Geminiani, executive director of Lawyers for Equal Justice.

"We believe that there are dozens or hundreds of other young people in Hawaii who are suffering because the state simply isn't doing what the law requires," he said.

The state Department of Health and Department of Human Services declined to comment on the pending litigation.